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Studying A Cry for Help [intermediate mechanics final]

  1. Dec 12, 2016 #1
    Hi, people,

    New to the forum here. Not sure if this is the correct place to post this sorta thing or not, but hopefully it can be moved if necessary!

    Anyway, I have an intermediate mechanics final on Thursday, and I need some serious guidance on the best way to prepare. Our textbook is Morin's Classical Mechanics, and the exam is supposed to cover the first nine chapters. Additionally, our instructor has given us a practice final with solutions.

    For my past couple physics courses, I'd just work through as many problems as I possibly could on all the relevant sections prior to every exam, and that worked pretty well for me. (That was with Sears and Zemansky's University Physics.) However, with Morin, I don't feel this is a viable strategy.

    Essentially, what I'm wondering is if anyone can recommend a strategy for preparing for this so as to maximize my chances of passing. Are there any additional resources I might find helpful? I like video lectures, as they allow me to move at my own pace through the material, but am having a hard time finding any suitable for this course/text. For reference, between now and the exam I could probably put in a solid 10-12 hours of study time.

    One more thing: I can imagine many of you are wondering why I don't just work my way through the practice final that has been provided, but, as of right now, even that's a little over my head.

    I'm pretty stressed right now, and would really appreciate some feedback.

    Thank you so much!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 13, 2016 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    That would be a viable strategy during the semester, but with only two days left until the final, it's not. I get the sense that you haven't been keeping up with the work throughout the term, and are hoping for a miracle to happen at the last minute.
    Why? Again, have you been keeping up with the work throughout the term? Presumably your instructor is going to pattern the exam along the lines of the practice exam, so IMO, that's really your best (and I think only) shot. Watching video lectures, which may or may not exist, is not going to be a magic bullet.
  4. Dec 13, 2016 #3
    Hi, Mark44,

    Thanks for the response.

    First off, let me say I definitely appreciate you implying I'm a sub-par student! Because we all know no instructor in the history of academia has ever had unreasonable expectations of his students. That's simply unheard of. :oldsmile:

    Secondly, I wasn't hoping so much for a "magic bullet" as I was perhaps a recommendation for another resource that might take a different approach to explaining some of these concepts. I don't require that it consist of video lectures; I merely mentioned that those are what seem to work best for me.

    Finally, your recommendation that I focus on the practice exam has been noted. Thank you.
  5. Dec 13, 2016 #4
    If passing is iffy in going into the final, lack of effort on the part of the student is usually a contributing factor. Half the profs you have will be below average. A good student figures out how to learn in those cases too.

    One can't learn much in the last two days of a semester that you didn't learn in the first 16 weeks. Well-prepared students are usually working to focus, practice, and put the important skills into long term memory and refreshed short term memory.

    With two days to go, the best place to focus is on working problems rather than concepts. With 12 hours to work on practice problems, your odds are better to hit upon something that will show up on the final if you focus on problems rather than on concepts.
  6. Dec 13, 2016 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    You might want to lose the 'tude, bro. Mark44 is not the person responsible for the situation you are in.

    Furthermore, you say you are not looking for a magic bullet, but given the improvement you are looking for in 10-12 hours, you kind of are. If I told you I wanted to buy a brand new Porsche for $5000, what would your response be? Continuing with the analogy, the most useful advice we can provide is what you can do with the $5000, or the resources at hand. I think the 'work a bunch of problems' advice is the best strategy - make sure you pick up every point on the concepts you know rather than trying to learn new concepts 100-200x faster than during the term.
  7. Dec 13, 2016 #6
    You sound like a hardworking guy to my standards, and you're obviously willing to study for this final. The people on these forums just were exceptionally good students and then feel everyone should be like that. IMO you don't have an attitude or anything like that, just throwing this out there because replies like this have seriously brought down my self-esteem before so I can relate. Now the argument can be made why is my self-esteem brought down so low, so easily? Again assuming I'm capable of pushing myself to be like them and capable of studying much harder, being less emotional, etc. True, I may be capable indeed, but it's not very likely I will actually act on that, I am aware of that, and I don't need to be reminded that as I'm in the situation of asking for advice.

    Just throwing that out there because maybe this will help ya a little bit. I've also been in your boat many times.

    The following advice might be common sense, but I've found myself in this situation a lot so maybe it's somewhat helpful: Usually what I do in this situation is try and recall anything the teacher may have hinted about being on the final, know the methodology of how to do problems related to those topics. Usually I do this by just looking at the solutions and trying to understand them, but if that's not possible just memorize the step-by-step and try to figure out a way I'd remember that. Any topic or type of problem I especially suspect I'll go over different variations of the same problem, to see what angles it can be asked at and how to react to any variations. I would spend some time digging up variations of problems I know are most likely, the ones that will actually help me most. Other than that, I'd probably spend a bunch of time looking at those solutions for the final. Near the last 5 or so hours just pick problems and see if I can remember how the solution went (can I do it without the solution next to me?). If not, take a look at the solution and write out the solution. Focus on the parts I forgot, move on to another problem, then come back to that same one again and see if I remember now.

    At the end, it should be noted, this won't make you an excellent student. This may however maximize the chances you pass this class. The decision is up to you whether you want to try and pass the class and do it like a "less hardworking" student, or if you rather fail it and then retake it and pass it so that you get the most out of it.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2016
  8. Dec 13, 2016 #7
    Just solve past papers using the solutions as a reference, as many as you can
  9. Dec 13, 2016 #8
    No, not everyone. Only those subsidized by the taxpayer.

    Fantasy of the Miracle Finish

    In the movies and television, protagonists are often seen making weak academic or professional efforts (often due to romantic or heroic distractions) and then “buckling down” and working “real hard” for a short time before pulling off the required performance to salvage their grade or job. Experienced Physics educators know it is nearly impossible to learn a full term’s worth of Physics in a short time. Unsatisfactory levels of student effort for most of the semester cannot be overcome with improved efforts at the end. One farmer can produce a crop of grain in six months, but six farmers cannot produce a crop of grain in one month.

    Miracle finishes in Physics result from the kind of consistent diligence displayed in the hockey movie, “Miracle”, that recounts the USA’s victory over the USSR’s hockey team in the 1980 Olympic Games. The problem solving skills required in most Physics courses represent the formation of abilities in addition to the transmission of information. Acquisition of these skills is more like learning to play a musical instrument than learning many academic subjects. Success requires repeated application of methods demonstrated in class. The coach of USA’s 1980 hockey team gave birth to the miracle finish by his exhortations in practice: again, again, again, again …

    Students need to know they might have a better chance winning an Olympic gold medal or a Grammy award than passing a Physics course without a significant and steady level of effort from the beginning of the course.

    Fantasy of the Soft Hearted Professor
    Many students finally show up at the professor’s door near the end of the semester asking, “What can I do to pass this class?” Often, the only honest answer is, “Work hard from the beginning when you retake the course.”

    Excerpt from https://arxiv.org/ftp/physics/papers/0605/0605152.pdf
  10. Dec 13, 2016 #9
    This. This is what physics students need to understand from the very beginning. It took me a long time to get this, I wish someone had said it to me sooner.
  11. Dec 13, 2016 #10


    Staff: Mentor

    I didn't imply anything. Based on what you wrote, which didn't really supply much in the way of details, you aren't where you need to be to pass the final.
    As has already been said, it really does look like you're searching for a "magic bullet" -- being able to cram a semester's worth of material into 10 - 12 hours.
  12. Dec 13, 2016 #11


    Staff: Mentor

    Dr. Courtney has already addressed most of what you said above. With regard to the last part of what you wrote, about asking for advice -- if you are capable of working harder, but aren't willing to actually do that work, our advice is going to be different than for someone whom we believe is willing to put in the effort. In a situation like the one you describe, realistic advice is called for, regardless on any effect on one's unearned self-esteem.
  13. Dec 14, 2016 #12
    Thanks for the support, and thanks for not replying with, "Well, you're pretty much screwed," as most everyone else has.

    I'm not disagreeing with this in the slightest.
    You said it sounded as though I hadn't been keeping up with the homework (which is patently untrue, by the by).

    Additionally, perhaps it was my fault for not making this clear from the beginning, but I don't exactly need to "cram a semester's worth of material into 10 -12 hours [of study]." For the record, I would see the futility in that. I meant more that that was the amount of time I had to really solidify the key concepts in my mind and feel confident going into the final.
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